A new investigative report published today by The Sentry reveals potential vulnerabilities in the electronic voting technology currently being prototyped for use in the Democratic Republic of Congo (“Congo”), including potential threats to ballot secrecy as well as the risk of results manipulation. Congo’s elections are scheduled to be held in December this year.
The report reveals that Miru Systems Co, the South Korean firm currently poised to sell Congo’s electoral commission (CENI) an estimated 105,000 electronic voting machines, may have initially attempted to sell its technology to the Argentinian government, but was unsuccessful due in part to these security vulnerabilities. Based on technical documents obtained by The Sentry, similarities between machines demonstrated in Argentina and prototype machines currently being rolled out in Congo suggest they may even be repackaged versions of the same machines.
The Sentry’s report comes as President Joseph Kabila is calculating whether to put his name on the ballot, which would be a violation of Congo’s constitution. Billboards, posters, and videos seemingly presenting Kabila as a candidate have already appeared across Congo. Kabila continues to resist calls to announce that he will not run for re-election. Kabila’s candidacy would also break commitments he has made to Congolese civil society and opposition groups, including the December 31, 2016 accord brokered by the Catholic Bishops Conference in Congo (CENCO).
The new information revealed in The Sentry’s report underscores the serious risks this electronic voting technology poses to the credibility of Congo’s electoral process, and the need for greater transparency in the CENI’s activities overall.
The report recommends:
The United States and the European Union should:
- Immediately exert financial pressure to help prevent Kabila from running for re-election and ensure a credible democratic transition of power, including sanctions designations and anti-money laundering measures against senior members of his inner circle and their corporate networks. This pressure should increase if the Kabila government fails to take meaningful steps to hold a credible, peaceful democratic transition of power.
- Key benchmarks should include: abandoning the use of electronic voting technology in favor of paper ballots, ensuring that civil society and opposition groups can peacefully demonstrate and exercise their rights to freedom of assembly, dropping politically motivated charges against opposition and civil society leaders, releasing political prisoners, allowing all candidates to register and public confirmation that Kabila will not stand for re-election.
- Ensure enforcement of existing sanctions and take steps to monitor and guard against evasion by already-sanctioned individuals.
The United States, African Union, Southern African Development Community and European Union should:
- Coordinate public messaging on the Kabila government’s failure or success to meet the benchmarks outlined above, preferably via joint statements.
The donor community should:
- Increase assistance to civil society efforts to observe the electoral process. Increase and sustain assistance to democracy and governance strengthening initiatives.